TURKEY has closed down the country's only legal pro- Kurdish political party, providing another signal that Ankara is tilting further towards nationalism and is becoming indifferent to outside criticism of its worsening human rights record.
Turks have often found it hard to differentiate between moderate Kurdish nationalism and the virulent separatism espoused by the Marxist rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Thursday's decision by the constitutional court to ban the Democracy Party (DEP) shows that the state no longer wants to try.
Six Kurdish nationalist parliamentarians - five of them members of DEP - have already been jailed since March. Fearing arrest, another six of the 13 DEP members of parliament had already flown to Europe.
To outsiders, Turkey's obsession with hounding Kurdish moderates looks extraordinary. Charges rarely allege links to the rebels. Usually they relate to 'separatist' speeches, or, in the case of the DEP, its August 1993 'Peace Declaration,' which called for a political solution to the Kurdish question.
Only a few DEP politicians are radicals who sympathise with the Marxist rebels. At DEP headquarters, over a leather shop in Ankara, the members do not look threatening. Most are tribal leaders or local businessmen. Remzi Kartal, DEP's acting leader, is a middle-aged dentist.
Amazingly, some Istanbul publications still print Kurdish nationalist views, despite severe harassment, forced closures and jailings of journalists. More sinister has been a series of mysterious murders of nationalists and recently, of three well-known Kurdish businessmen.
'To be frank, Turkey's friends feel growing concern about a deterioration in the protection of certain human rights and fundamental freedoms . . . reports about the ill- treatment of persons taken into detention and the arrest and imprisonment of writers and politicans for expressing critical opinions are disquieting,' the EU Commissioner for external political relations, Hans van den Broek, said in Ankara yesterday.
German-Turkish relations have become strained and the US has also reacted by insisting that its military aid to Turkey must not be used for domestic purposes.
Moderate Kurds have suffered since 1990, when they set up a legal party, the People's Labour Party (HEP). The late Turkish leader, Turgut Ozal, was then advocating a more liberal political climate. Since his death a year ago, the state has rejected moves to allow Kurds official status as an ethnic group. The Turkish state feels no embarrassment about this, and sees foreign intervention as an attempt to split up the country. Officials say that when Kurds identify with Turkey they suffer no discrimination. The security forces rule out concessions to Kurdish nationalism until the 10,000-strong Marxist rebel army in south-eastern Turkey has been crushed.
'Die-hard elements in the establishment want to finish the Kurdish issue, whatever the method, be it depopulation or small-scale massacres,' Cengiz Candar of Sabah newspaper said. 'But whatever they do, it seems to have a boomerang effect.'
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